Poker – Big Pairs

Aces, kings and queens before the flop, although great to have, can sometimes present problems in terms of playing them optimally. Queens in particular are another classic Hold ‘Em trap hand which many inexperienced players tend to overplay. If another player raises before the flop, it is OK to call with two queens, but re-raising is asking for trouble in a pot-limit or no-limit game. If the raiser has aces or kings, you are a big underdog and if he has ace-king, a likely hand for him, you are only a slight favourite. In a tournament, if you were down to a short stack (i.e. had very little money or chips left) or your opponent had a short stack re-raising wouldn’t be wrong but I don’t encourage it. Everything I have said about queens applies with even more emphasis to a pair of jacks. Those players who are desperate to get all their money in before the flop with a pair of jacks are putting their bankroll in serious jeopardy.
Kings are safer, but can still be a tricky hand to play. A raise from another player normally merits a re-raise to shut out the rest of the field but what if he then raises again? Unless he is a maniac, he probably has aces, or maybe ace-king. If you are playing a tournament, especially a freeze-out tournament, it is questionable play to commit all your money early on before the flop with two kings against an all-in raiser.
My own experience of holding two kings has been mixed. Four times in two years in tournaments and cash games, I re-raised with two kings and was immediately re-raised. None of my opponents were particularly tricky players. In each case, I was about 90 per cent sure I was up against pocket aces. But two kings is a tough hand to throwaway. All four times, I called, against my better judgement, and each time my opponents had aces. Of course, maybe I’m just unlucky. You sit there all night never being dealt two cards that hang together. Finally, after four hours, two kings come along. You raise, he re-raises. You put all your money in and, sure enough, you end up looking at two aces.
So it is an option to pass or fold two kings, just don’t tell anybody you’re doing it! Just throw them in quietly without making a fuss. If you show your hand to your opponent, you are telling him that you are giving credit for aces, which he might not have had. Also, the other players at the table might think you are playing too cautiously or conservatively (to use poker vernacular, ‘too tightly’) and start bluffing you out of pots.
What about aces? It is wonderful to be dealt A-A as your two hole cards, but do you put all your money in or not? Remember that, in a tournament, staying in is the most important thing, so I’d be more inclined to play A-A aggressively. For example, if one player raises and another calls, I would almost always re-raise, but against only one player, I’d be more tempted to just call, which is a deceptive play and will lead your opponent to think you have a lesser hand. Aces usually want only one player to play against. If you’re against three or four, there is every chance one of these players will hit something on the flop to beat you.
Some of the best players I’ve seen are players who have just called with aces behind a raiser. They are hoping the raiser gets a little help on the flop. Say he might have a king-queen. If a king or a queen comes on the flop, the raiser will probably bet. The player can now raise with the A-A and hopefully win a big pot. If the player had re-raised immediately before the flop, the original raiser (if he’s a half-decent player) would probably have thrown his hand away.
The drawback here, of course, is that the original raiser might get too much help on the flop and hit the front. If the flop came king-queen-three, in the above example, probably only a world-class player would be able to get away from A-A without serious damage.
But really the main ‘purpose’ of having two aces in Texas Hold ‘Em is to have them beaten, so that you can have a ‘good’ hard luck story (called a’bad beat story’) to tell your fellow players at the bar!